Microsoft Goes Deeper Into Artificial Intelligence With Latest Acquisition

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Just what the world needs, clairvoyant smart phones. SwiftKey’s technology sifts through millions of typed-in keyboard combinations and collects that data in hopes of correctly guessing what you’re entering even before you finish typing. It’s like the autofill feature used by many software programs, but much, much smarter. Now…

Just what the world needs, clairvoyant smart phones.

SwiftKey’s technology sifts through millions of typed-in keyboard combinations and collects that data in hopes of correctly guessing what you’re entering even before you finish typing. It’s like the autofill feature used by many software programs, but much, much smarter.

Now Microsoft is buying SwiftKey in a bid to beef up its artificial intelligence push, according to a Financial Times report late Tuesday. A source close to deal confirmed the basics to Fortune but said the reported $250 million price is a tad high. The deal is expected to be announced Wednesday.

Microsoft had no comment.

SwiftKey’s predictive search technology relies on software installed on Android and Apple smart phones that logs users’ keyboard activity to detect patterns about what users search for or want to know.

There’s an arms race going on in artificial intelligence, or cognitive computing, the goal of which is to enable computers to learn from their experiences in order to deliver better results. Microsoft, Google, Apple AAPL -2.02% , IBM IBM -1.51% , and Amazon AMZN -3.95% Web Services, are all scrambling for advantage here by buying innovative startups and building their own technology.

Google GOOG 1.69% , as the Times pointed out, bought DeepMind, another London-based AI company for about $400 million in early 2014. In October, Apple bought Perceptio, a startup specializing in image recognition for smartphones.

AI is already enabling computers to not only recognize people’ faces from digital images, but ascertain their age, and even their moods based on facial expressions. It also automates human language translation.

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These are big, complex problems, with lots of real-world uses.

Swiftkey has built a trove of user-input queries and basically “scrapes” all the phrases entered on the public Internet to construct its data models, as Gigaom reported two years ago. It also parses the phrasing and language of individual users to better predict what the current user is about to ask.

The continuous interplay between what the user is typing now and its back-end model means it has a good shot of figuring out what you want it even before you’re done trying to express it. The more data it aggregates, the better its predictive results become.

No one’s saying much, but a reasonable person might assume that SwiftKey’s treasure trove of models and data would find a welcome home in Harry Shum’s Microsoft Technology and Research Group.


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